Wouldn't it be great if random strangers showed up and created dynamic, relevant content for your website? Without being paid?
Yes, that's a thing. And it's called a branded online community.
Establish a "home base" on your corporate domain where your fans and customers can rely on direct, two-way communication with you and your team. If that trust relationship is established, the magic happens. It's like a barn-raising, with everyone working together to build a reservoir of value.
Give them a way to share photos, videos, ask questions, answer each others' questions, share their opinions in polls, and get to know each other. All of that back-and-forth, and all of that meaty information feeds the search engines' hunger for useful, recent content.
And search engines hunger for content because humans hunger for information.
In the recently released book Absolute Value, authors Simonson & Rosen use the term “couch tracking,” accumulating lots of information over time, even before the need for a product is identified. Marketers need to focus more attention on the couch-trackers, who frequent online communities and forums as they have a certain product or brand “on their radar,” because they are likely to make a decision before marketers are even aware of them.
Gini Dietrich also recently wrote on this subject as it relates to brand journalism. Your PR team can leverage your guest bloggers, Q&A topics, and visual content to support their efforts.
If you want to leverage user-generated content, bring together your community in a space you control. Raise a barn together.
The content of uploaded documents (including PDFs, Word documents, spreadsheets, and more) will now be indexed, which means they will be searchable!
2. Search Engine Spider/Robot Throttling Option
Some sites get hammered by search engine robots trying to index their content, especially older sites that have lots of content. In some cases, a high percentage of overall traffic to the site can be attributable to these search engine bots.
Thus, we have added a new tool to allow you to tame these bots, if necessary. If your billable page views are getting close to your plan limit, this option may come in handy.
On your site Control Panel's Statistics page, you'll find the new Throttling option right below your billable page view stats. You can even see the current percentage of traffic attributable to these robots.
You have three choice- No Throttling (default), Standard Throttling (which limits the bots to approximately 20% of your overall page views, and Custom Throttling.
Most sites will never need to use the "throttling" option, but it's a valuable option for sites that need it.
Please note of course that throttling search engine bots will prevent your site from being updated as often, which may negatively impact your SEO, so definitely consider the pros and cons before you enable it.
Each year, they seek input from professional community managers across a wide array of organizations, in order to produce an inside look at how brands and businesses are advancing the practice of community management.
I did a summary of key takeaways from the 2013 State of Community Management here, and there were a lot of fascinating insights that emerged from last year's report. For example, community managers emerged as the silo-breakers within organizations, often pulling together resources across multiple departments to support community-building efforts.
The Community Roundtable also runs an amazing year-round program of members-only and free webinars and content. I highly recommend checking them out if you're interested in continuing education as a community management pro. And tell them Rosemary sent you
Warning: this post might make you start craving FROYO...
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Mills from the PR team at Orange Leaf Yogurt. He's responsible for heading up OL Insider, their thriving intranet community. He spilled his secrets for getting engagement going, measuring success, and communicating across a broad spectrum of corporate and franchisee participants.
1. First, please tell us a bit about your community. Who are your members, and how are they using it? Is it completely private?
Our community is called the OL Insider. I will describe OL Insider as the internal Orange Leaf intranet or community platform that brings everyone affiliated with the brand from an internal perspective together in one location. We have corporate employees on the intranet, franchisees, store managers, some store employees and even Reese Travis- the Orange Leaf CEO. Our community is private in the sense that it is integrated with our marketing portal. Our marketing portal is where we house all materials stores need, and we ensure that we monitor login credentials and reset them often. This means, if you don’t have access to our marketing portal, you cannot access the OL Insider. No one can access it through the URL.
2. What made you take the leap to Hoop.la?
About a year ago, we really started looking into ways to improve our communication structure. My goal as the one in charge of corporate communications was to ensure that we weren’t becoming one-dimensional
by just sending out mass emails to store operators. An essential part of brand success for franchises such as Orange Leaf is to establish a system where there is dialogue amongst corporate members and franchisees/managers at the store level.
People communicate in different ways, and it’s not okay to send out communication without giving the receivers of the message an opportunity to provide feedback. Hoop.la provided the platform we were looking for. A community page where corporate can communicate and get instant feedback. It also allows store operators to communicate amongst themselves, share ideas and even ask questions and receive answers in real time. For those who love to communicate through visuals, the photo sharing aspect of the site allows them to do so. Need calendar updates? Hoop.la has all of that. It has truly been a great platform for the brand.
3. Which modules are you using? (Forums, blogs, chat?)
We currently use the Blog feature for communication coming from headquarters, and the Forum module mainly for store operators to start their own conversations. We also use the Clips and Calendar modules.
We haven’t started using the Chat module yet. We plan on using that soon, but we didn’t want to overwhelm community members when we launched the platform.
4. Do you have any key success metrics for success for your community? How’s it going so far?
Our goal is to have 100 percent of stores represented on the platform. It is easy to get stores that opened after the launch of OL Insider signed up, but the difficult part is getting all stores opened prior to the launch
of OL Insider to sign on. The good news is that, we have over 80 percent of all stores represented on the platform in less than six months. This is a testament to our willingness to provide a platform that gives store
operators a voice and an opportunity to share ideas and get the assistance they need to make their stores successful. I think another key for measuring success is to ensure that the platform is being utilized and is active. Since launch, we have been able to maintain an average of 10,000 standard page views a month.
The engagement on the site has also been great as well. Our goal is to maintain this standard and keep the page active, fun and informative.
5. How did you get the word out to your audience about the new community?
First of all, this is something our franchise system wanted. Our job was to listen to them and to find the best platform to meet their needs. Once the OL Insider launched, we used emails from our CEO, videos, and even hosted multiple webinars to guide store operators on how to use the platform. For the first few months after the launch, I don’t think an email or video was sent to the franchise system without mentioning OL Insider. Once store operators started using the page, they loved it and helped spread the word.
Another tactic we used was to post exclusive content on OL Insider that you could only access by signing up.
6. How is the community staffed? Do you have a formal community manager and moderators?
We don’t have a formal community manager, but I usually manage the site and stay on top of it. We have HQ members who are moderators and others who are super admins. We distinguish corporate members from store operators by ensuring that everyone has their title, department and contact information on their profile. Headshots also help store operators put faces to names. Store operators have their store and location on their profile to help identify where they are and has even led to new friendships for people in the same state.
7. How do you encourage Orange Leaf corporate staff to participate and create content?
The Orange Leaf Corporate staff love the platform because it gives us all great insight into how stores are doing and the great things store operators are doing in the communities. We also ensure that departments are keeping up with the content by placing the responsibility of answering questions directed at corporate on each department.
8. What advice would you give to anyone who is just starting out with a franchisee communication strategy?
Communication was never intended to be one-dimensional, and unfortunately, some companies are unsuccessful because they fail to listen to consumers or their key stakeholders. The best part about OL
Insider for me has been wealth of information and feedback coming from store operators. I work at Orange Leaf because I want stores to do well and be successful. Without store operators, I would have no job.
I would be making a mistake if I didn’t listen and learn from the people who are actually in stores selling yogurt. In less than six months, OL Insider has helped improve a lot of our systems just because of the ideas being shared on the platform on a daily basis. My advice would be to communicate through different channels, keep it simple and remember that the art of communication is not complete without feedback.
9. I always like to ask for funny/unexpected stories...has anything surprised you during the planning and launch of the OL Insider community?
Yes – I have learned that the best way to get people involved is to give them a chance to talk about themselves or share their photos. I was surprised to learn from a recent OL Insider survey that the majority of the franchise system said that the photo sharing feature of OL Insider (Clips) is their favorite part of platform. I really believed the forums would rank higher because of the great ideas we all share on a daily basis. I was wrong. But then I thought about how boring the platform would be without some fun images from stores, and then I agreed with them.
~Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Richard!
Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt is a choose-your-own-topping frozen dessert chain with more than 285 locations across the United States and Australia. Orange Leaf was ranked one of the top new franchises for 2013 by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Anyone running an online community for business purposes should take the time to put together a formal business plan for the community.
Even if you never share it with anyone else, it will help you figure out (in advance, hopefully) how the community will be successful.
Keep in mind that all business plans are meant to be fluid documents; they need to be revised and revisited periodically. Set up a reminder to do a quarterly or semi-annual plan review.
This post will give you some tips for adapting the standard business plan format to an online community.
Elements of an Online Community Business Plan
This is your “elevator pitch” for the community. In other words, what’s your response when the C-suite says “why do we need to do this?” If you plan to share this business plan with others in order to get buy-in or budget, include a clear statement of what you need (resources, funding, staffing).
Show how much work you’ve done to find out about the landscape for your community.
Are there competing community sites?
Are they monetized (and how)?
Who is your target community member?
How many people fit your profile, and how active are they in communities and other social networks?
This should be a brief description of how the community will work, and how it fits into your larger business operation. What components of your community plan will make it successful?
Organization and Management
Describe who will be managing and moderating the community. Do you need internal staffing? Will you incorporate volunteers? What are the skills and experience of your designated community team? How will the community management team interact with the larger organizational structure of the business?
Marketing and Sales Strategies
Summarize how you plan to bring in community members, beginning with the early founding members and proceeding through to the maturity phase. Put in place an ongoing mechanism for attracting and retaining members. How will you promote the community?
Service and/or Product
Do you plan to monetize the community directly? If so, what are the proposed revenue streams and how much do you forecast you will earn for each? What are the benefits from the community for the larger organization? What is your unique selling proposition for this community? Why would your target audience join your community rather than a competing one?
How much budget do you need to get the community up and running? How much do you need to maintain it into the future? Are there recurring costs? Consider time requirements from any departments that may need to be involved (do you need graphics from the marketing department? help with single sign-on from the IT department?)
Unlike a business plan for a startup, you probably can’t include true financial statements for your community, but if you have access to any key financial metrics, you can include them here. Perhaps your community is geared toward support, and you have determined that the community has prevented a certain specific number of phone calls (a cost savings). If you have directly monetized the community (with ads, premium memberships, or premium content), you could include those numbers in this section.
This type of formal plan may seem like overkill, but even if you run through the structure and ask yourself some of these questions, it will benefit your community in the long run.
Knowing the road ahead, and planning for results, will lead to a more coherent community strategy. And if you’re trying to build support from C-level executives, this type of planning will present the community in terms they prefer.
Our newest service is QuestionShark, a customer support platform that makes it incredibly easy for businesses of all sizes to collect and manage customer inquiries and feedback.
Customers can classify their support topics as questions, issues, suggestions, compliments, tips, or conversations. Support Reps can also post announcements.
Actionable support topics can be assigned to specific Support Reps and also have a status so everyone can see the state of each support item.
Customers can vote up suggestions, questions, and issues so the company can see the most requested ideas or hot button issues.
Each topic can be set as public or private. When private, only the author and Support Reps can view them. When public, other community members can view or post to them.
We are so fanatical about support ourselves that one thing that used to happen to us frequently when assisting our own customers was that two of us would respond to a customer at the same time, since we had no way of knowing when each other was posting.
To solve that, we added support for real-time updates. Whenever you are on a support topic, you'll see if someone else is composing a reply or is there is new activity on the site.
This inspires confidence in customers and prevents support reps from stepping on each other's toes.
Whispers and Forwards
QuestionShark is about much more than setting a status on a support topic. It's about creating efficiencies though collaboration. Support Reps can pos private whispers on topics that only they can see. One rep can help another answer a question and the whispers are displayed inline on the topic so the context is always evident.
Reps can also forward support topics to each, which can be really handy when a tough topic/ticket has onerep stumped and he needs assistance.
Post By Email
QuestionShark supports both post by email and reply by email. With Post By Email, you can allow your customers to submit new topics anytime via a special email address. Those users do not have to register on your site in order to do so.
Similarly, customers can reply to topics directly via email.
QuestionShark has a mobile interface, just like our other services. Anyone accessing a QuestionShark site via a mobile browser will receive the mobile interface automatically.
Use widgets to call our recent support topics, your product list, FAQ, and/or documentation. These widgets can be embedded on outside sites if you wish to promote your support content elsewhere.
Prebuilt lists give both customers and support reps instant access to the content they care about. These lists include: Topics You Created, Topics You Follow, Open Topics With No Replies, and more.
As with our other services, QuestionShark is very easy to customize. From the headers and footer, to your own custom theme, to custom menus and profile fields and permissions, you are always in control of your site. It's your brand and your rules.
QuestionShark is a hosted service and pricing is based solely on the number of Support Reps you have. All plans include unlimited disk space, bandwidth, page views, posts stored, and members. Pricing starts at $99/month for 5 support reps.
Note that QuestionShark is also available as an add-on for our comprehensive community platform, Hoop.la.
We just rolled out a major software upgrade for Hoop.la and UBB Forum. We are calling this one the QuestionShark release because the bulk of the changes revolve around QuestionShark as both a standalone product AND as a paid add-on for Hoop.la.
QuestionShark allows organizations to provide awesome online customer support. Customers can post questions, issues, suggestions, tips, and more and the company can track each topic, assign tickets to Support Reps, and track status changes. It also supports posting by email and real-time status updates on topics.
We'll have more details about QuestionShark in a separate blog post later, but here is a quick rundown on all of the major changes in this software update:
1. QuestionShark now available as a paid plan add-on for Hoop.la.
If you are a non Pro customer, you can pay to add it to your account via the Your Plan page in your Hoop.la control panel. Prices start at $99/month.
Note that QuestionShark page views do NOT count toward your billable page views at all. All QuestionShark page views are unlimited.
2. Reply Forking
For any forum topic or support topic, admins/modersators can now fork an individual reply to start a new topic. The forked topic will remain in the original topic, with a link to the new topic.
3. Reply By Email
We've added a new setting that allows your community members to reply directly via email when they receive a content email notification. This applies for all content types- blog posts, forum topics, clips, calendar events, and of course support topics.
By default, this is enabled for all sites. To turn it off, go to your Member Settings and disable the feature.
4. Settings to Control Profile Wall and "Stuff I Love"
We've added two new settings in Member Settings that allows admins to disable the Profile Wall sections and the profile "Stuff I Love" box.
5. Enhanced Member Snapshot and Profiles
We've added much more detail to the Member Snapshot (the popup window that appears when you click on a member's gingerbread man icon). This includes more administrative links, which groups the member belongs to (if yourHoop.lasite is using Groups), and which permission circles the member belongs to (that info is only available to Super Admins).
The Member Profile page has also been enhanced with more info. That includes more “action” links- including links to start a dialog and block the member, and more administrative options. Any admin with the “Manage Members” permission can also view a new “Dossier” section that provides confidential information about the member. See example below.
6. Post By Email
For QuestionShark, we’ve added support for posting new support topics by email. Of note, users do not have to be registered on the site to post by email. This required us to support the notion of a LITE registrant, someone who becomes registered when they post, but who does not have a password. As such, member privileges are only granted when they click on links in the emails they receive from the community.
7. Invite User to Permission Circle
We’ve renamed permission “groups” permission “circles” to avoid confusion with Hoop.la’s Groups feature. And now, you can invite people to join your site AND add them to a permissions circle simultaneously. Use the new “Email Addresses” tab when adding members for the permission circle. The invitees will receive an email to join your site and when they accept they will also be added to the permission circle you specified.
As usual, there were numerous other minor upgrades, tweaks, and bug fixes.
If you're building a thriving online community, chances are you've already planned your outreach, invited some people who fit your target audience, and prodded your core members to invite their friends.
Once you've exhausted that resource, how do you attract new members?
Hint: it involves something that rhymes with Shnoogle (or Shming).
Yes, search engines can be a source of new members if you play your cards right. Rather than beating the bushes to find people interested in your niche, why not make it easy for them to find you?
Key areas of your online community to optimize:
Use custom URLs, so your content is easily identified.
Make sure your images are properly titled and captioned.
Create a coherent identity (logo, tagline). Make it dead easy for your existing members to talk about your community, as in "it's the best place on the web to learn about extreme snowboarding," or "it's the best resource for lead-based paint removal experts." Whatever your "thing" is, make it very clear.
Come up with 3-5 important key phrases or key words that your core audience would be interested in, and make sure that those are sprinkled (only where they make sense) in your content, via blog posts, forum topics, etc. (Note thatI said sprinkled, not stuffed.)
Don't leave your "about this community" blank. Write a smashing description that makes it obvious who would be interested.
Try to do "deep-linking" into your own community content. When you do a blog post, find a relevant older blog post or forum topic to link to. Google sees this as a sign of longevity and authority (that's a good thing).
Bonus if you've gotten your Google authorship connected. This will help your blog posts appear with a nice avatar in Google search results, which will help get you (and your community) noticed!
Do you have any special tricks for attracting the attention of your core audience?
On January 3, 2014 at 4:00 PM Eastern Time, we will be having a live chat event here on this site that seeks feedback from our users about improvements you would like to see for FeePod, our premium membership system.
Everyone is invited to participate! We're using Hoop.la's chat feature, so no special plug-in or download required--just go to the link below and join in.
Sometimes posting an actual comment or reply is overkill and all you want to do is give a quick thumbs up. You can now do so with our support for comment/reply likes. Such likes will appear in the site and profile activity streams. In addition, comment authors can be notified about the likes, if they prefer.
2. New Theme Settings
You can now set an outside border on shaded content areas, providing more definition to those areas. In addition, we added support for styling the side navigation menu differently from the top navigation item. By default, however, the side navigation menu will match the top navigation menu styling. Finally, we added support for a new "Private Content" section. This will be used more for our upcoming QuestionShark service, but it will also be used for errors and warning messages.
3. One-Click Suspend Notifications in Emails
We have fundamentally changed the way we send content notification emails and this allows us to add support for un-subscribing from all content notification emails in one click from the email. When a user clicks on the link to stop email notifications, he will not have to sign into your site, making the process extremely quick. The action is equivalent to checking the "Suspend All Email Notifications" link on the member notification settings page.
4. Hoop.la Premium Memberships is now FeePod
Now that we have more than one service using our premium membership service, we realized we needed to re-brand our premium membership service so that it is not tied directly to Hoop.la. Thus, while the premium membership system itself has not changed (or changed ownership), we are now calling it FeePod (as in, FeePod Premium Memberships).
FeePod is a service of Social Strata and again, aside from the name change, nothing has changed in terms of the way the service operates. Premium membership purchasers will now see FeePod as the billing entity.
5. Stock Avatars
For member avatars, we now support both user-uploadable avatars and/or stock avatars (avatars that you upload and that your members can choose from). Some sites do not want their members to upload their own avatar images, so supporting stock avatars gives you another way to control the experience on your community.
6. Parental Consent Option
If you site is targeting children, it’s important that you follow the COPPA laws in the United States. With our new Parental Consent option, you can set a flag on underage accounts to require parental consent before the account is authorized. You set this in the Profile Settings section of your control panel (under the “Birthday” field).
When enabled. you will see a new Parental Consent Queue under your Manage Members control panel section. That is where you would mark pending underage members as approved so that they can become authorized members of your community.
7. UBB Forum- Choose Powered-By graphic
UBB Forum customers can now choose from a selection of powered-by images, rather than having to use one hard-coded image. (Hoop.la has always had this option.)
As usual, there are numerous bug fixes and other improvements, as well, in this release.
For a long time now, our corporate site has been running on an instance of Hoop.la and that site was completely separate from our support site, which was running our custom help desk software (which we called "QuestionShark"). However, we have been working on porting that help desk software over so it can be both a standalone product AND available as an add-on for Hoop.la sites.
Today, we took a giant step closer to that reality by migrating our old support content into our corporate Hoop.la site, which includes a beta version of QuestionShark. Now we have one consolidated corporate site! (If you happened to be registered on both of those sites, we combined your account into one.)
Thus, when you visit our new support site, you'll be getting a sneak preview of QuestionShark. We still have more features to add before we officially make it available, however. Needless to say, we are very excited about consolidating into one community and even more excited to be that much closer to finalizing QuestionShark itself.
I'll be talking much more about the features and benefits of QuestionShark when we get closer to launch of the product.
For those of your accustomed to our old support site, note that you can now:
-- Post a general conversation topic.. perfect for when you don't have an issue or question and just want to talk to others about one of our services.
-- View topics by product/service
-- Like individual replies/comments
-- Follow specific services or even particulat topic types within a service
Here's a screenshot of a sample topic in QuestionShark:
Most online communities that include forums have put together community guidelines for forum behavior. These types of guidelines usually include rules about self-promotion, signature use, civility, and other rules of the road.
With the advent of communities that encompass both forums and member blogging, we need to consider adapting our guidelines to deal with blogging etiquette.
This post offers some ideas to bring your community guidelines up to date. Feel free to use these guidelines if they suit your community (or tweak them as you need).
Community-Based Blogging Guidelines
Don't monopolize the conversation - Make sure that your voice doesn't drown out the community's other bloggers in the activity stream.
Keep your posts concise and readable - Unless you're writing a research paper 400-700 words is recommended (with headlines and breaks for good flow).
Be responsive to those who comment on your blog post - Especially within a community, take the time to reply to your fellow members who comment.
Always do a final spellcheck and editorial pass before you publish.
Make your posts attractive by including images or embedded video (always include attribution where appropriate, and don't use copyrighted images or video without permission).
Follow the same rules of civility in your blog posts that we follow in our forums.
(Use this one only if you're moderating blog posts by members) We screen member blog posts before they go live; please be patient while we review and approve your content. Please direct any editorial questions to (insert staff name and email address here).
Do you allow your community members to blog on your site? If so, do you have any guidelines or expectations in place?
Can you believe it’s November already? I thought it would be fun to share some inspiration and ideas for ending 2013 on a high note in your online community.
Does your community celebrate Thanksgiving? Consider setting up a contest, a game, or a great thread to share recipes and traditions. You can do the same thing with other end of the year holidays, like Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.
Think about rounding up great content from the first 3/4 of the year and highlighting posts that had special meaning for the community. You don’t have to wait until December 31 to recognize great contributions.
How about choosing a charity to support? Lots of communities bond over a shared giving goal.
Is your community approaching any anniversary dates? Be sure to recognize milestones for both your members and your site in general.
Now is the time to start planning ahead for 2014. Do you have a roadmap for your community in the long term? Don’t wait until the end of December to get that action plan together.
Do some research and see what your past statistics say about the holiday time in your community. Is it a quiet period, when you need to take extra steps to keep your members participating? Or is it a super active period, when you might need extra moderation support to keep up with new posts? Now is the time to get ready for any changes the end of the year brings for you.
When it comes to blogging, is it "the more the merrier," or do you need to worry about "too many cooks in the kitchen?"
That depends on the purpose of your site, the composition of your community, and the resources you have available. Many blogging platforms (including Hoop.la) will allow you to decide who is able to contribute your blog.
Blogging options can include:
Everyone in the community can blog
Certain specific members can blog
This post will review some of the key considerations when you're deciding what type of blogging to choose for your site.
Everyone Can Blog
This scenario works best for a smaller, tight community where members have a lot to say.
Better for more tech-savvy communities, where members understand what blogging is, and how to use it. (You don't want to be constantly fielding questions about "what is this blog button?")
Can be a great source of user-generated content; perhaps you have amazing writers in your community just waiting to be seen!
Your members who blog will draw more attention to the community because they may want to promote their posts outside the community.
Members may feel more "ownership" stake in the community if they are a blogger within it.
Specific Members Are Authorized Bloggers
This scenario gives you more control over the flow of content.
Having a specific group of authorized bloggers can be a way to reward or promote community members who make long-term commitments to the site.
Frequently, intranet communities or corporate communities will use only authorized bloggers, as a way of controlling the message. It can be a good idea to invite partners and investors to participate as authorized bloggers as well.
A group of authorized bloggers is a nice way to get a diversity of voices, and share the workload on a corporate blog.
Whether you have all members blogging, or just a specific group, you can feature, or highlight, certain blog content. (With Hoop.la, you can choose to either feature a specific blog post or all posts by a certain blogger.)
Featuring blog content can be a way to differentiate paid professional bloggers on your site vs unpaid contributors.
Featuring can also be a nice reward for a member who posts something especially useful or well-written.
Sometimes you just want to have one voice in the blog, and use the forums for wider discussions.
Single-blogger communities are great for author sites, entrepreneurs, or solo consultancies.
Being the solo blogger on the site puts some pressure to produce great posts on a regular schedule, so be sure you're ready to commit to a consistent flow of posts before you decide to go this route.
Blogging can be a valuable component of a community site, and taking time to review some of the options above will make it even better.
Do you include blogging in your community? Who's on your blogging team?
Online communities are scattered around the web like stars, many of them humming along for 10-15 years now.
If you've been lucky enough to be part of a community with longevity, then you know what a rare and beautiful thing it is, full of strong relationships, obscure traditions, inside jokes, and metric tons of information stored. Some of these communities belong to corporations, some are hobbyists, and some can't even remember why they were started in the first place.
For anyone seeking to create an online community that stands the test of time, I'd advise checking out some of these long-standing communities, many of them forum-based. It's not accidental that they're still going...it's due to the smarts and devotion of the members, moderators, and admins who run them.
Here are some of the key observations I've made of the most enduring online communities:
Provide value to the members - Build a solid foundation with something valuable to your members. It might be answers to their questions, it might be moral support, or it might be a creative outlet.
Build in reminders - You need to have a mechanism for reminding members to participate, especially in the beginning stages. Make it customizable for members with different preferences, but alerts and notifications are very important.
Make it habit-forming with recurring events or traditions - Consider a Friday chat event, or a running topic with a word game, or a monthly pet photo contest. Create a relevant, recurring draw that builds history.
Involve the members in running the place - Yes, let the inmates run the asylum as much as you can. Having a strong sense of ownership, or a stake in the outcome, is the most direct path to longevity. Remember when the members of The WELL actually bought it back?
Create insider status - You don't want to intimidate new members away from joining, but you need to create an "insider status" for your key supporters. Give them special titles, send them t-shirts, intentionally record and share community history/memories over time. Consider in-person events to strengthen the bonds even more.
And finally, always remember the community is people, not technology.
Any grizzled veterans want to share their own insights on what has made their community last?
Energizer, Energizer Bunny design and other marks are trademarks of Energizer. I believe use of the image in this post falls under "fair use" for teaching purposes.
Shhhhh...don't tell anybody...let's just keep this between us, OK?
There's a secret feature in Hoop.la that will help you radically change the look of your home page, with almost no effort. We call it the "billboard," and it allows you to control the space directly beneath the navigation bar.
To add your billboard, go to your Hoop.la control panel, click Modules, and then click Home Page.
Notice that you have a nice big HTML-ready space here. So why not have some fun with it?
You could add a big, beautiful photo that illustrates your latest blog post, like this:
That space could be used to promote your upcoming events, advertise new products, or invite entries for a contest. Because it includes HTML, you can include links or dynamic content too.
Have you used the billboard yet? Want to share your ideas?